July 26, 2004

Game One to Minnesota

Some random thoughts I had while watching the Twins beat the White Sox last night ...

... How many times have you seen someone hit a slow grounder to the left side of the infield, run less than maximum effort down the line, and get thrown out by a step at first base? And how many times have you wondered how close the play would have been if they'd have sprinted the entire distance?

Well, Lew Ford puts that to the test on every ground ball he hits and he's had a TON of infield singles this season because of it. Last night, he hit a slow chopper to third base and Joe Crede fielded it cleanly and made a nice throw over to first, but because Ford was sprinting, head down, from the moment his bat made contact with the ball, he basically got to the bag at the same time as the throw and got himself a hit.

I want to say that Ford has had a dozen of those hits this year, but I think that might be exaggerating. At the very least, he's had four or five, which is about four or five more than most players. The Twins definitely have a keeper in Lew Ford.

... Nick Punto broke his right clavicle last night, on the very first play in the bottom of the first inning. This really stinks, for any number of reasons.

First and foremost is that a broken clavicle sounds like an awful injury, and the way he suffered it -- crashing hard to the ground while trying to make one of those throw-while-falling plays on a slow grounder to second base -- much have been incredibly painful.

Beyond that, I feel bad for Punto because he has already been on the disabled list for a long stretch this year and was just starting to convince Ron Gardenhire that he deserved regular playing time. He had 50 at-bats this month, mostly starting in place of Cristian Guzman at shortstop, and was playing second base instead of Luis Rivas last night.

For the year, Punto is hitting just .256/.343/.322, and I don't think he's a great option as an everyday player, but he was looking like a very solid utility guy. Plus, on a team with Guzman and Rivas as the double-play combo, having someone capable of at least getting on base and playing some defense is crucial.

It was amazing to me just how great Punto looked defensively this month, whether at shortstop or second base. And I don't even think he's that great as a defender. I think he's merely good, but looked so phenomenal because I've been watching two of the worst defensive middle infielders in baseball for so damn long.

So the Twins lose a nifty utility man, they lose someone to push Guzman and Rivas, they lose someone Gardenhire was taking a liking to over Guzman and Rivas, and they lose someone at an area of extreme weakness in the organization. I mean, if they lost a corner outfielder, they'd be okay for a while, but who exactly do they call up to replace Punto? If they had someone good and major-league ready, he'd be up already.

Certainly whoever ends up taking Punto's spot -- whether it is Jason Bartlett or Terry Tiffee or Alex Prieto -- will not be seen as an option to play over Rivas and Guzman like Gardenhire was beginning to see Punto as. Just bad news all around, although at least this might create some more opportunities for Michael Cuddyer to play second base.

... Remember when Cristian Guzman used to hit lots of triples? Me too, those were the days. Guzman's triple last night was just his third this season, in 363 at-bats. At various points in his career, Guzman has been the best triples-hitter in baseball, but he's also had a couple stretches like this season, where he's had a serious three-bagger drought.

Take a look ...

YEAR     3B      AB     3B/600 AB

1999 2 420 2.9
2000 20 631 19.0
2001 14 493 17.0
2002 6 623 5.8
2003 14 534 15.7
2004 3 363 5.0

Now, triples are a quirky enough thing and something that is rare enough that fluctuations like that aren't totally unexplainable. Still, I believe that Guzman, for the most part, gets triples when he wants to and settles for doubles when he doesn't. Some of that has to do with some leg and foot injuries he's had, but some of it is simply just a matter of him wanting to run an extra 90 feet.

For instance, the one he hit last night looked to me like a typical double, which is to say it was a typical triple for Guzman, back when he was flying around the bases on a regular basis. For whatever reason, at that very moment, Guzman felt compelled to take the extra base, so he did. There have been no less than four or five similar instances this season when he chose to settle for the stand-up double instead.

It was nice to see Guzman back to taking that extra base last night, because there isn't much in baseball that is more exciting than a triple, and there's nothing better for a Twins fan than Guzman cutting that corner on his way to third.

... And finally:


Minnesota 55 44 .556 ---
Chicago 52 44 .542 1.5

Game 1: Minnesota 6, Chicago 2

Game 2: Johan Santana (8-6, 3.44) vs. Freddy Garcia (8-8, 3.18)

Game 3: Carlos Silva (9-7, 4.48) vs. Esteban Loaiza (9-5, 4.85)

New article at The Hardball Times: News, Notes and Quotes (July 27, 2004)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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